5. Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh)
“Lean on Pete” is a beautiful and touching coming-of-age story based on Vlautin’s novel of the same name. The film follows Charlie (Charlie Plummer), a young teenager who has moved to the countryside with his single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel) to escape the urban life and start afresh. However, the rural area doesn’t seem to be doing much good for Ray as we begin to see the holes in the father-son relationship.
Not able to rely on his father, Charlie finds solace in the racetrack where he befriends a horse called Lean on Pete, as well as its owner Montgomery (Steve Buscemi) and Bonnie the jockey (Chloe Sevigny). However, what he doesn’t at first know is that Lean on Pete’s days are coming to an end as he is bound to be put down due to his old age. And so, Charlie takes it upon himself to save his friend and find a way for the two of them to start again somewhere new.
4. The Rider (Chloé Zhao)
“The Rider” is the second film about a man’s relationship with a horse, suggesting a thematic callback to nature and appreciation for the breakaway from the rural lifestyle and morals. The film is based on a true story, but does something innovative with its style through the documentary feel to it. The story follows a rodeo rider who, after experiencing an accident, searches for his identity and tries to re-establish himself as an American man.
What is interesting is that he is played by the man who had lived this experience, Brady Jandreau, while other cast members like his family are also played by themselves, adding authenticity and a level of emotional connection that is hard to achieve with unrelated actors. The story is one of bravery and survival as Brady is forced to redefine himself in the light of the accident that strips away the one thing he identified as.
3. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
With “Thoroughbreds,” first-time feature film director Finley adds a gem to the psychological thriller genre. The film follows the reunion of two old friends, Lily (Anna Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), whose separation has caused them to grow apart. Despite having grown up together in the suburbs, the two had been leading completely different lifestyles – Lily living in luscious upper class luxury and Amanda taking a different approach and becoming an outcast amongst other young people.
However, the suburbs bring the two girls back together, with their friendship forming a new bond over Lily’s tyrannous stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), which causes the two girls to bring out each other’s darker sides as they take charge of the situation and decide to get rid of the oppressor.
2. Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton)
“Sweet Country” is an Australian film that highlights its country’s racism. Set in the 1920s, the western thriller demonstrates the struggle of justice towards an Aboriginal man after he kills a white man in self-defense. He is forced to run, demonstrated by the problems in the judicial system that offers him no protection. The film raises questions of equality, national identity and colonialism, highlighting the country’s dreadful past.
The film won several festival awards and was particularly praised for its actors’ performances that really encapsulated the struggle of the people at the times. Although the film is two hours long, it is definitely worth it for the intriguing way of its storytelling.
1. Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater)
Although the director is quite well known, with Linklater having directed several big indie films like “Boyhood” and the Before trilogy, this film seems to have crept into the shadows of bigger Hollywood productions at the beginning of the year.
The story is a reunion of three retired soldiers (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne) who spent their youth fighting side by side in Vietnam, who come together 30 years later. However, the circumstances are not much better as the reason is in fact the death of one of the men’s son who died in war. This reunification under tragedy takes the men on a physical and spiritual journey of remembering their time together and the effect it had on their lives.